I regret to inform you of this, reader, but you have a label.
Don’t you fret, now! Although it’s an untreatable condition, you’re not alone. As members of the most intelligent species on Earth, a fact we flaunt not at all, we feel the subconscious need to define our surroundings, to name and categorize and organize everything we come across. We are the only species to do so.
So then, to what ends do our minds make us label ourselves, our colleagues, our beliefs and whatnot? What makes us want to identify one person as a dork because they wear thick glasses and play Magic: The Gathering, and another as a recluse because whenever you call them to hang out, they always say they’ve got too much work?
One of the chief reasons is that it’s easier. It’s simple enough to say that you see all facets of all people you know, that you see them as more than just one or a few choice aspects of their selves, but when someone asks what they’re like, one usually replies with a label. It’s a much less complicated route than to wax lyrical about their eating habits and how they pick their nose at 11:00 a.m. every day, on the hour.
Fortunately, our labels have become increasingly elaborate over time. As humans, we tend to designate things in as few categories as possible, start with the extremities of a spectrum, and then work our way inward, identifying and classifying more in our society as time moves along.
To use a dramatic example, records of past millennia have found two concrete definitions of people: a man who likes women, and a woman who likes men. However, the mid-1800s found the first use of the German term “Uranian,” which was perceived as the third sex: a man, who liked men, or a woman who liked women. This definition transcended the “black and white” labels of man and woman, past pure heterosexuality, moving inward toward the gray area of homosexuality and then the transgender identity.
Not all aspects of society have progressed far in terms of specialization of labels. The American majority seems obsessed with the two-party political system, the black and the white, even though there are more opinions and sides to take in a political debate than almost any other discussion one can have. The gray area in between “Democrat” and “Republican” is quickly being filled by “moderates,” which can be anything from Green Party advocates to Libertarians to Statists. The facets exist, but society tends to ignore them, because it’s “easier.”
Of course, there will always be the denomination that rejects these labels, and wants to be seen as merely “people.” However, as unfortunate as it may be, labels are inescapable, and any person who doesn’t accept or try to shape his or her own labels will be plagued by irony. Take those in the counterculture of the ’60s and ’70s — they had a strong desire to just be themselves, to go undefined, but as a result, they were christened “hippies” by society.
So I’m sorry to disappoint, Californian nonconformists, but nonconformity is a label, too.
To contact this writer, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org